In talking about salvation, there is a danger in eclipsing the simplicity of salvation by laying too much emphasis on the salvation “process.”
In “Reformed” theology (of the Protestant Reformation), which the Reformers obviously considered to be true biblical theology, salvation is regarded as a sovereign divine act of grace that begins with regeneration, which enables us to believe and thus to repent. Regeneration, faith and repentance can be subsumed under the term “justification,” where Christ transfers his righteousness to the believer. Then starts the life-long process of sanctification where the believer works out his salvation with the realisation that it is Christ working in him that enables him to persevere. At the end of the salvation process – physical death – comes glorification. Christ becomes my portion forever.
With regard to glorification, we are meant to experience (feel) the presence of Christ/God here and now. After all, we are seated – now at this very moment- in heavenly places with Jesus (Ephesians 1:1-3). Yet at the same time we are caught in this corrupted body, struggling, sinning, and (if we are born again) groaning for our glorification, which is nothing more than the redemption of our bodies. After all, our souls have already been glorified, because we already are partakers of the heavenly riches, as are the angels. Unlike angels, alas, we’re not at all as happy as they – thanks to this body of death.
Now, what is the danger in this “salvation as a process?” Here is Robert Murray M’Cheyne, from his poignant biography.
“Referring to Song 6:3, “My beloved is mine,” following “My beloved is gone down into his garden,” he said, “This is the faith of assurance,—a complete, unhesitating embracing of Christ as my righteousness and my strength and my all. A common mistake is, that this clear conviction that Christ is mine is an attainment far on in the divine life, and that it springs from evidences seen in my heart. When I see myself a new creature, Christ on the throne in my heart, love to the brethren, etc., it is often thought that I may begin then to say, ‘My Beloved is mine.’ How different this passage! The moment Jesus comes down into the garden to the beds of spices,—the moment He reveals himself, the soul cries out, ‘My Beloved is mine!’ So saith Thomas, John 20:27, 28. The moment Jesus came in and revealed his wounds, Thomas cried out, ‘My Lord and my God.’ He did not look to see if he was believing, or if the graces of love and humility were reigning; but all he saw and thought of was Jesus and Him crucified and risen.”
The New Testament uses various tenses of salvation for those who believe: are saved, being saved, been saved and will be saved. The crucial point is that those who are being saved, have been saved, will be saved ARE saved as far “back” as eternity:
35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Alas, relatively few today believe in this eternal security. How can they believe that they will never lose (give up) their salvation if they believe in the sacrosanctity of their free will to make the final decision. Today they trade in their sin (ashes) for Christ (Beauty); tomorrow they might used their precious free will that sealed the former transaction to trade Christ for apostasy.
Why is M’Cheyne so poignant (like a “dagger”; poignard in French)? because he stabs at the very heart not only of the matter but of the soul. (An electronic copy of his biography by one of Scotland’s greats, Andrew Bonar, can be found at Project Gutenberg).